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Case Study

The Master Security Plan: Digital Surveillance

Elon U deploys camera system to enhance campus safety

North Carolina's Elon University. located on a historic campus away from urban centers, wanted to maintain the secure atmosphere that its 5,400 students valued. In fact, a feeling of safety is part of the university's appeal, according to Christopher Waters, director of IT and assistant CIO.

In the last year, campus police and the campus security department approached Elon's IT department and asked for help maintaining and adding to the 15 or so security cameras already on campus. Cameras on the 575-acre campus were controlled by software that had been developed internally--a system that required campus police to contact the IT department whenever they needed to view a video segment. "The campus police would call IT to say, 'We had an incident last night. Can you pull camera No. 27 and show footage?'" Waters said. An IT professional would then spend hours of time downloading pictures to create a surveillance report.

To address that issue and to allow the network of cameras to be expanded, the IT and campus police departments together decided to move the existing security cameras onto the main campus IP network and to turn control of the system itself over to campus police. The new solution lets police search for images in a far more timely manner--and without any help from IT. "It puts the power back in the hands of police officials, who know the evidence they are looking for and can be much more diligent and timely," Waters said.

As part of the project, additional cameras were added to the system in common areas such as parking lots and other places on campus that students often walk at night. "We don't have security issues," Waters said. Rather, the university wanted to use the surveillance network to make sure the campus stayed secure. So far, it seems to be working. "We have been amazed at the deterrent factor of deploying the cameras," Waters said.

For the real-time and archived video surveillance system, Elon chose a solution from Cisco, partly because the university already had a robust Cisco IP network in place. Now, the Cisco Video Surveillance Operations Manager operates over the university's existing Cisco network.

The project was rolled out over a three-month period last summer, as part of a larger master security plan. Most of the surveillance cameras are on the wired network; in two areas where there are no buildings close by, a wireless infrastructure mounted to light poles bridges back to the wired network. "We've been very pleased with that solution," Waters said.

Waters's IT department set up the infrastructure originally and continues to install cameras as needed, but the control system and the main console reside in the campus police station and is controlled there. Campus police monitor images using two large video screens that can display 20 to 25 images at once. Images are saved for seven days, a storage model that IT and campus police worked on together. The 75 or so cameras (new cameras are still being added regularly) require 18 terabytes of storage space, at least for now; a Phase 2 plan under a new budget outlines additional areas to be covered by the cameras, and would require adding more digital storage space.

Some of the existing cameras came from other vendors; Waters said those cameras integrated fairly smoothly with the system, as well as the new Cisco cameras that have been added. To avoid costly reliance on an outside vendor, network engineers at Elon have learned how to set up, focus and integrate new cameras as needed.

In the future, the university plans to expand its surveillance network with cameras covering more of the campus, including entry gates and parking lots, and perhaps residence hall entrances. Other departments besides the campus police may also be interested in using video cameras selectively. Library managers, for example, could use video footage to assess usage patterns, then adjust staffing to match.

About the Author

Linda Briggs is a freelance writer based in San Diego, Calif. She can be reached at [email protected].

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